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Scenes from The University of Rhode Island

Booker urges Class of 2011 to stand tall

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KINGSTON, R.I. – May 23, 2011 – A month before his grandfather passed away, Cory Booker was by his side in the hospital.

Before Booker left, his grandfather grabbed his shoulder, looked at him, and said, “I love you; I love your children; and I love your grandchildren.”

Booker told the crowd Sunday at the University of Rhode Island’s 125th Undergraduate Commencement that, at the time, he thought his grandfather was dealing with delirium or dementia, since Booker was not married, nor did he have any children or grandchildren.

It wasn’t until after his grandfather’s death a month later, as Booker was on the campaign trail en route to becoming mayor of Newark, N.J., that Booker fully understood what the words meant.

Booker – recently named to Time Magazine’s list of 100 of the world's most influential people – said his grandfather was his hero. Despite facing hate and discrimination, his grandfather loved the world, and wanted to make it a better place for all who came after him. This was a lesson Booker was taught on his own graduation day.

“He said to me, ‘You are living a life that was a dangerous dream when I was your age growing up,’” Booker said. “’You are here because of a grand conspiracy of love. Never forget that the degree you hold was paid for by the blood, sweat and tears of your ancestors and tens of thousands of human beings who you will never even know their names.’”

On the day of his own college graduation, Cory Booker’s grandfather shared words that the mayor of Newark, N.J. took to heart.

Booker passed those words on to URI's Class of 2011.

“Please, in everything you do, stand up tall,” Booker told the crowd. “Stand up for who you are and from where you come from. Stand up in honor of those who came before, and stand up with hope for those who will come after.”

In following his grandfather’s words, Booker urged the 3,283 undergraduates graduating:

“We must stand up!” Booker said. “Class of 2011, you must stand, because this world needs you. It needs your uniqueness. It needs your divinity. It needs your love. You must stand up because change will not roll in, as (Martin Luther) King (Jr.) said, on the wheels of inevitability. It must be carried in on the backs of soldiers who day in and day out stand up for it. You must stand!”